The Best New Year’s Resolutions Are the Ones That Stick

The Best New Year’s Resolutions Are the Ones That Stick
Photo: StyleCaster/Getty Images.

You’ve probably heard a hundred thousand variations of the trope that nobody follows through on New Year’s resolutions. I could do a whole Jerry Seinfeld-style standup routine about how the gym is so full in January but empty by Valentine’s Day, bada bing bada boom, but I will save all of this for my soon-to-be wildly successful open mic night appearance. What I’m more concerned with here is helping you, my marvelous reader, not become a statistic. Because there are concrete things we can all do to make sure we stick to our 2019 New Year’s resolutions—and a bunch of us aren’t doing them.

Maybe you’ve already bailed on your New Year’s resolution. Maybe you’ve managed to stick with it thus far. Or maybe you never even started working toward it. It doesn’t matter. You still have an entire year to achieve those goals. So sit back, relax and let some real smart people tell you how to commit to your ressies. You’ve got this, I’ve got this—we’ve all got this.

1. First, get in touch with the big picture.

Nicole Issa, Psy.D., recommends that, before anything else, you spend some time reflecting on your personal values and making sure your goals are informed by them. She’s trained in two forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, both of which place heavy emphasis on this process.

It’s important, she says, not to make goals based on what others want from you, or what you think you should be doing. “A lot of the time people place judgement on their values,” Dr. Issa tells StyleCaster. “[It’s very important] to be honest with yourself about what you value—and opposed to what you think you should value—and give [both] the weight [they’re] worth. She says it’s crucial for people to make changes that really matter to them. “If they’re not doing it for themselves, they probably won’t go very far,” she says. (Yup, consider this your official excuse to be selfish for once!)

John Mayer, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in Chicago, tells his patients to consider the big picture motivations that drive their goals. This makes it easier to see why they’re important—and to focus on the endgame. “Think of the bigger picture,” he tells StyleCaster. “What are you trying to obtain?” Dr. Mayer says a lot of patients come to him with goals that are too abstract to accomplish. “Break the words down to their roots,” he adds. What’s really important?

2. Then, get realistic.

Dr. Issa says there’s no good in setting goals that are too extreme, as it can lead to immediate discouragement if you don’t completely succeed. This is a cognitive distortion called all-or-nothing thinking, where if a person doesn’t immediately achieve perfection they feel as though they’ve failed—and then they give up altogether.

Dr. Issa recommends considering your circumstances and resources, so you can set goals you can reasonably accomplish. For instance, if you can’t afford a gym membership and the weather won’t allow for outdoor exercise, then making a resolution to go to the gym may not be a reasonable goal. “You want to set yourself up for success,” she says. “It’s not so much setting the bar low, but taking into account your schedule, how busy you are, the other demands in your life and making sure this is something you can definitely accomplish.”

Dr. Mayer says he often sees patients getting hung up on problems that are unobtainable—or outside their pay-grade. “It sounds silly, but I see patients who just want to get rid of Trump,” he says. “People will get angry about things that aren’t really important in their own life, where there’s no personal application or meaning.”

Instead of focusing on some pie-in-the-sky thing you’re not sure how to accomplish, Dr. Mayer recommends getting specific. Try to take on goals that are both achievable and personally significant. If you’re stressed about the current political climate, for example, “Get more politically active, write letters, make sure you vote,” Dr. Mayer says. These are simple but meaningful things you can do to work toward that bigger picture dream you care about. Plus, they’ll keep you from feeling overwhelmed or futile.

3. Break your resolution into smaller, achievable chunks. And be sure to give yourself deadlines.

Breaking your goals into more manageable steps—and being specific about those steps—is essential, according to Dr. Mayer. “Instead of saying, ‘I want to lose weight in 2019,’ say, ‘I want to lose 10 pounds by March 1,'” he recommends. Getting down to the nitty-gritty like this does two things: It makes the step toward reaching your longterm goal easier to accomplish, and it gives for a deadline for doing so.

Good goal-setting is all about making and keeping deadlines, Dr. Mayer adds. “Put reminders in your phone,” he says. “We can’t hold everything in our minds anymore, there’s too much going on. We’re often in survival mode, so we need reminders to keep us on our path.”

Dr. Issa agrees, saying the keys to keeping goals are to be specific in making goals “both measurable and time-limited.” It’s vital to break objectives into achievable actions so that you can tell when you’ve accomplished them—and check off the box. “You basically want to set up a rubric, as if you’re grading something, and be able to check it off as you go,” she explains.

And specifics are essential. “Say you’re going to do [something] this many days a week,” Dr. Issa says. “Anything you can look at and objectively say, ‘Did I do this? Yes or no.'” If someone’s goal were to be more grateful, for example, she would advise them to make a plan of actionable steps, like writing in a gratitude journal a certain number of days per week.

4. Think about what obstacles you might encounter in advance.

One thing many people aren’t used to doing, Dr. Issa says, is thinking about the things that might prevent them from accomplishing their goals. “It’s not part of our regular vernacular to talk about what obstacles you anticipate and how you’re going to problem-solve those in advance,” she says. “People tend to miss that.”

Dr. Issa says she encourages patients to consider their day-to-days and think about why their resolution hasn’t been a part of their life so far. “I ask them what their track record is with this resolution,” she says. If they’ve attempted it before, what obstacles did they face last time?

And one of the most common obstacles most people encounter? Other people, Dr. Mayer says. “Individuals don’t solicit people around them to be on board with their goals,” he explains. “They do it in isolation, and they fail because people go, ‘Have this piece of candy,’ or ‘Have this glass of champagne.'” He recommends asking the people in your life for support and cooperation beforehand to put yourself at an advantage right off the bat.

5. Be sure to remind yourself of your goal (and why you’re doing it) whenever you can.

It may sound simple, Dr. Mayer says, but simply writing your goal down somewhere you can see it every day can make a huge difference. “Affirmations keep you on the path of a goal. They’re mental reminders, and they work,” he explains, adding that he’s instructed some patients to write affirmations on their mirrors in lipstick—that way, the first thing they see when they wake up is a reminder of what they’re working toward. “It may sound silly, but…[affirmations] leave a great mental trace in our mind. You attach [meaning] to it, and it takes on a life of its own.”

6. Recognize your achievements as you earn them. And then reward yourself for them.

The benefit of making your goals measurable, Dr. Issa says, is that you can recognize when you’re succeeding. “A lot of the time, people are accomplishing their goals but they don’t give themselves credit for it—they brush it off as part of the everyday,” she explains. “So the more someone is able to give themselves credit for what they’re doing and label it for what it is—which is achieving a goal or demonstrating competency—the more they’re likely to end up sticking with things.” When you’re able to check off boxes for your goals, it forces you to acknowledge your successes. And let’s be real, that feels great.

In line with recognizing your successes, Dr. Mayer says, is celebrating them. “It’s very important to reward yourself along the journey. If you hit your weight loss goal that week, go buy those skinny jeans [you’ve been eyeing]. If you resolved to be more romantic, go out on a date night,” he says. “It’s not a bribe, it’s a pat on the back.” Treat yourself, babe. You’ve got this.